Recent progress

Updated data this year show that the number of people without clean cooking facilities has been declining gradually. Over 450 million people have gained access to clean cooking since 2010 in India and China, as a result of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) programmes and clean air policies. The challenge in sub-Saharan Africa remains acute, with a deteriorating picture: only 17% of the population have clean cooking access. In total, more than 2.6 billion people worldwide still do not have access, and household air pollution, mostly from cooking smoke, is linked to around 2.5 million premature deaths annually. The Covid-19 pandemic is putting countries further away from reaching universal access to clean cooking.


More than 2.6 billion people lack access to clean cooking facilities, relying instead on solid biomass, kerosene or coal as their primary cooking fuel. In the past, progress has been very limited compared to electricity access. While latest data show a gradual decline worldwide in the number of people without clean cooking access, the pandemic is weighing additional challenges reversing this modest progress.

Developing Asia is home to almost 65% of the global population without access, with 1.6 billion people lacking clean cooking facilities. Seven-times more people lack clean cooking access than electricity in this region. However, the latest data shows promising signs, with 670 million people gaining access since 2010. In India and China, access rates have reached 49% and 71% respectively in 2018.

In India, national data show a reduction of 10 percentage points in the share of population relying on biomass and kerosene between 2010 and 2015, with most now using LPG instead. Since 2015, government figures indicate that an additional 80 million free LPG connections have been provided to poor households via the high-profile PMUY scheme. In China, natural gas infrastructure development is helping to reduce the use of biomass and kerosene. Several other countries in developing Asia have also been making efforts to promote clean cooking, employing different methods depending on the national context.

The lack of access to clean cooking remains very acute in sub-Saharan Africa with access increasing only slightly from 15% in 2015 to 17% in 2018. Since 2015, only 25 million people have gained access to clean cooking in the region, meaning that the number of people without access increased to around 900 million in 2018 as population growth outpaced provision efforts. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where the number of those without access continues to rise significantly, highlighting the urgent need for action.

The vast majority of people in sub-Saharan Africa thus rely on gathering biomass for cooking, in particular in rural areas, which dramatically damages health and impairs productivity improvements. Almost 490 000 premature deaths per year are related to household air pollution from the lack of access to clean cooking facilities, with women and children the worst affected. Forest degradation, sometimes leading to deforestation, is another serious consequence of the unsustainable harvesting of fuelwood.

The Covid-19 pandemic and its effects now threaten to reverse the already insufficient progress that has been observed in recent years. Shifting government priorities, supply-chain disruptions and social distancing measures have slowed access programmes and hindered activities in the decentralised energy access area. Above all, as a direct consequence of the increased poverty induced by the crisis, many households in rural or peri-urban areas could backslide to the use of charcoal, kerosene or fuelwood. To support continued access to energy services, some countries have been moving forward quickly: Uganda removed value-added tax on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in June 2020; and the government in India guaranteed free LPG refills for some of the poorest members of society between April and September 2020.

Proportion of population with primary reliance on clean cooking facilities, 2000-2018

Outlook for clean cooking

In the scenario taking into account today’s current and announced policies (what we call the Stated Policies Scenario, or STEPS), there is a reversal in progress in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 crisis, and by 2030 there are still 2.4 billion without access to clean cooking facilities. This is around 60 million more people than in the STEPS in the World Energy Outlook-2019, falling farther away from the 2030 universal access target aimed by SDG 7.1. In 2030, population without access is almost equally shared between Africa and Developing Asia. In India, the access rate is 67% by 2030, which means around 500 million remain without access.

In the case of a slower rebound, as in the Delayed Recovery Scenario (DRS), the extended public health emergency is inevitably a primary focus for governments and donors, and the scope for expanding access is narrowed by a weakened global economy: a further 240 million people remain without access to clean cooking in 2030 compared with the STEPS.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people gaining access to clean cooking barely exceeds population growth as switching from the traditional use of biomass to cleaner options faces both economic and non-economic barriers. As a result, the population without access to clean cooking solutions grows to more than 1 billion people in 2030 in the STEPS, and the number of premature deaths linked to indoor air pollution continues to increase to over 500 000 by 2030. In the DRS, the population without access grows by an additional 30 million people in the region.

In the Sustainable Development Scenario, governments and donors put access at the heart of recovery plans and programmes in order to achieve universal access by 2030. Similarly as for electricity access, given expected strong population growth over that period, achieving universal access means a cumulative total of around 2.8 billion people gaining access to cleaner cooking facilities for the first time over the period. Realizing this dramatic acceleration requires clear ambitions and effective programmes that support affordable solutions for the poorest households and the deployment of efficient infrastructure. LPG and improved cookstoves offer readily available and scalable solutions in many regions today, but alternative fuels for cooking, such as biogas or bioethanol could also have a part to play in many regions, depending on local circumstances. Other technologies currently being explored could also help deliver clean cooking. Electric pressure cookers, for example, powered by solar PV and a battery, could represent a clean, standalone and cost-effective way to improve access to clean cooking without overburdening distribution grids; alternatively, renewable LPG could provide a locally produced sustainable source of fuel in certain areas.

Proportion of population with primary reliance on clean fuels for cooking, 2000-2030